Thursday, March 16, 2006

Notes on Harry Eckstein's Congruence theory

Harry Eckstein’s “Congruence Theory Explained”:

Basic Hypothesis:

H1: Governments perform well to the extent that their authority patterns are congruent with the authority patterns of other units of society.

H2: Democratic governments perform well only if their authority patterns exhibit “balanced disparities”— that is, combinations of democratic and nondemocratic traits.

What does this all mean?

Patterns of authority are the structures and processes by which social units are directed or, put otherwise, their structures and processes of governance. Authority relations are the interactions that constitute the patterns (5).

For Eckstein, he is interested in explaining “governance” in general. In other words, his first hypothesis explains governmental performance across all system types. His second hypothesis tries to explain democracies.

For example, there is a particular pattern of governance and authority in the workplace, the school, or the family. There is most certainly a pattern of governance and authority in the State, or the government. As Eckstein observed: “…the general idea of authority, or governance is common to both governments and other social units” (14). When these patterns are “congruent,” or match onto one another, governments are durable, promote civil order, are legitimate and there is considerable decisional efficacy (13).

Using Norway as an example, Eckstein makes his case for how this applies to democratic regimes. “Liberal-democratic traits at the level of government were modified by a pervasive nondemocratic trait: deference to technical experts (including bureaucrats) on subjects of their expertise…This tendency to defer to assumed expertise in fact turned up in other realms of social life as well” (22).

Eckstein, unlike Dahl, is not concerned so much with defending the merits of a democratic system. (Although he may have such normative goals). Instead, he tries to elaborate a theory of governmental performance that was ignored in the 1960s, and only recently has made a comeback in the literature on democratization, especially in post-communist transitions. This is in fact an introductory chapter to a larger volume on post-Soviet democratic transition. To quote: “Congruence theory implies that new institutions must be deigned in at least a way that does not dramatically violate the congruence condition — in other words, that adapts in some degree, to the pre-established order.” The problem with Russia — one of the cases in this book — is the “authoritarian character” of its social life and how this impedes transforming its institutions to democratic ones.

Questions to ponder:

  1. Could we describe Eckstein’s argument as a “cultural” argument? In other words, might an extension of this theory apply to a state’s religious fabrics or ethnic make-up and the degree to which “congruence” possible in these cases?
  2. Could we describe Ekstein’s argument as somewhat conservative? Eckstein’s concern — as I read it — is with stability and governance, not about advancing liberal values of equality, democracy or egalitarianism
  3. Would Eckstein be a fan of “participatory democracy,” as suggested by Dahl? Would participatory democracy disrupt already “congruent” relationships in authority patterns. Eckstein argued: “I have also argued that…a lack of involvement in politics most prevalent in lower socioeconomic groups may be a constructive, perhaps even necessary component of the “civic” culture that seems conducive to stable democracy” (8).
  4. Lastly, does anyone see a “constructivist” view of governance in Eckstein? In other words, his concern with shared norms and intersubjective meanings of authority might liken him to some contructivist thinkers (18).

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